The recent Panama documents leak by the Washington DC-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has exposed how individuals and multinationals in the region go to great lengths to conceal their assets and wealth, and sometimes to evade taxes. The list includes firms and senior government officials in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Rwanda has denied that its former intelligence chief Brig-Gen Emmanuel Ndahiro and business tycoon Hatari Sekoko used the offshore company Debden Investments Ltd for private gain. The firm, of which the two were listed as directors in 1998, was located in British Virgin Islands.
Finance Minister Claver Gatete said the company was established by the then transitional government as a special purpose vehicle to secure strategic services, due to the restrictive conditions it was operating under.
“The services included the lease of a secure and convenient mode of transport for government leaders,” said Mr Gatete. “Debden Investments Ltd was used in all transparency, and no private interests, illegal transactions or tax avoidance were involved.”
The Panama documents leak also brings to light the infamous Tullow Oil lawsuit in Uganda. The documents revealed how Heritage Oil and Gas Ltd (HOGL) knew beforehand of a capital gains tax that Uganda was planning to impose, and connived to circumvent it by domiciling its assets in a tax haven.
Uganda slapped a $404 million tax demand on Tullow Oil Uganda, which had in 2010 bought HOGL’s 50 per cent stake in Uganda’s oil fields for $1.5 billion. The tax dispute was resolved in 2013, with Tullow forced to pay the tax demand in instalments.
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Kenya’s Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal, has also been drawn into the leaked documents saga,; they list her, alongside her husband. as directors of two companies based in the British Virgin Islands, prior to Rawal’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
The family used other offshore companies to buy and sell real estate in London and nearby Surrey, the documents show, adding that between 2004 and 2012, the family traded in properties worth $9.86 million.
Ms Rawal, however, denounced the leak, saying that registering and operating businesses in tax havens is a “perfectly legal and legitimate corporate practice in the UK,” where her family is involved in the real estate sector.
“My family members include my two adult sons who live in London, are British subjects and run the business as per the laws applicable in the UK,” said Ms Rawal.
Jaynet Kabila Kyungu, the twin sister of Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila, is also listed in the Panama Papers as a director at Keratsu Holding Ltd, which has a 9.6 per cent indirect stake in Vodacom Congo Sprl.
Ms Kyungu owns a 50 per cent stake in the company, which was incorporated in Niue on June 19, 2001, a few months after her brother became president of the DRC. The company, incorporated in September 2001 in Niue and moved to Samoa in 2006, held shares in the New York company Blue Nile Consulting LLC in October 2007. It was used to buy shares, debentures and investments.
Angola’s Minister for Petroleum Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos is also listed in the documents as running a $1 million offshore firm, Medea Investments Ltd registered in March 2002.
Others named in the papers as having run offshore accounts include Kojo Annan, son of former United Nations chief Koffi Annan, who is accused of using a Samoan company to buy an apartment in London worth $500,000 in 2003, and is director of two companies in the British Virgin Islands; John Addo Kufuor, son of Ghana’s former president, John Agyekum Kufuor; Alaa Mubarak, eldest son of ousted former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Mamadie Touré, widow of Lansana Conté, former president of Guinea, and Clive Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma.